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3-D TV: Already in your home

Sets now in stores; content on the way

The motion picture industry is making a big bet on 3-D, in part because it’s supposed to promise an experience that can’t be duplicated on television.

There’s a problem with that logic, though: 3-D-capable televisions aren’t just possible, they’re already here.

Flat-panel TVs from Samsung and some other manufacturers can already display 3-D (with glasses required), though they’re not yet touting the feature.

That’s because, as with most new technologies, whether it was the advent of color TV or the switch to HD, 3-D at home requires both capability and content.

Steve Schklair, CEO of 3ality Digital Systems, who will demonstrate 3-D TV with a live transmission at NAB on Monday, says with companies like Samsung releasing 3-D-capable HDTVs, content and the awareness of the content are the next steps.

“Initially, you’ll see theatrical releases being released in 3-D to the monitors, followed by or even led by some broadcasts tests of certain events,” Schklair says.

Blu-ray discs are also capable of 3-D, and Schklair predicts 3-D Blu-ray releases will be coming by the end of the year, with a corresponding bump in promotion for 3-D-capable TVs.

What’s more, several companies are already demonstrating 3-D displays that work without glasses.

“A 3-D display should be as convenient as a 2-D screen today,” says Tibor Balogh, CEO of Budapest-based Holografika. The company makes the Holovizio 3-D display, which requires no glasses. “If you wear glasses, only two people can watch the set simultaneously, and it will not work in the long term.”

Philips’ WOWvx monitors have established a foothold as commercial displays, and the company is heading Europe’s 3D 4 You project to develop broadcast standards.

“Part of our strategy to promote our displays into the professional markets and digital signage is also to bring to the market a number of content-creation tools that enable and facilitate the production of content in the format that is required for our display,” says Rob de Vogel, senior director of business creation of Philips 3D Solutions. Those efforts include the BlueBox software for converting 2-D images and plug-ins for software packages like Maya.

Sports has also made some significant headway into this sphere, with the NBA set to present a case study on broadcasting live sports in 3-D.

“We’ve done three or four productions with rather good results with the tools that are out there,” says Mike Rokosa, VP of engineering for NBA Entertainment.

The NBA has been working with Burbank-based Pace HD, which provided the 3-D cameras the league has used in three 3-D experiments to date. “The cameras are the specialty item,” Rokosa says. “Most of the rest of the tools we used for these productions were adaptive uses of current HD production equipment.”

While a few minor production hurdles remain to be solved, a lot of what’s left to figure out are creative choices, such as deciding how graphics and statistics should look in 3-D and reducing quick camera cuts to preserve the immersive experience Rokosa says most find comparable to actually being at the game.

During one showing, “inadvertently, a ball came off the court toward the camera and everybody swooned out of the way,” he says.

Advertising is a likely driver for the creation of 3-D content. Studies show consumers pay significantly more attention to 3-D commercials, giving advertisers a tangible incentive for investing in the technology, Schklair says.

3-D content also has to fit within the current infrastructure, whether it’s broadcast over the air, through cable or satellite or over the Internet. Schklair says 3ality’s technology meets current FCC bandwidth standards. Cameras capable of creating live 3-D signals are plentiful, and the number of 3-D-capable displays in homes could be dramatically increased with set-top boxes that upgrade current HDTVs to display the format.

3-D will be the topic for a full day of presentations in the NAB Content Theater on Monday, including a live 3-D transmission from Los Angeles and a panel discussion on live 3-D sports.

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